How Medicare for All Is Tearing Democrats Apart

How Medicare for All Is Tearing Democrats Apart

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Plus: How Dems would boost corporate tax revenue
Wednesday, February 19, 2020

How Medicare for All Is Tearing Democrats Apart

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines last week by suggesting in an interview with HuffPost that, given how difficult it would almost certainly be to secure the congressional votes needed to enact Medicare for All, a public option health care plan might be an acceptable fallback.

“A president can’t wave a magic wand and pass any legislation they want,” Ocasio-Cortez told HuffPost. “The worst-case scenario? We compromise deeply and we end up getting a public option. Is that a nightmare? I don’t think so.”

Ocasio-Cortez has been a key, high-profile supporter of and surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. She favors Medicare for All and stressed in her interview with HuffPost that getting a public option wasn’t the left’s ultimate goal. She later clarified that she believes the public option is worse than Medicare for All and that Democrats fight for Medicare for All first, but her comments roiled some on the left.

Sen. Bernie Sanders pushed back a bit Tuesday night.

“I love Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She has done more in her first year in Congress to transform politics, to get young people involved, than any freshman member of Congress that I can remember,” Sanders told CNN at a Las Vegas town hall event. “But my view is that Medicare-for-all, the bill that we wrote, is in a sense already a compromise. It is a four-year transition period.”

Why it matters: Democrats are wrestling with questions about “purity tests” and just how ideologically flexible they can or should be as they both seek to defeat President Trump and stake out negotiating positions for future policy debates. But the ripples Ocasio-Cortez caused with her comments also highlight again just how divisive Medicare for All has been for Democrats, from party leaders to labor unions — and how risky the policy fight might be as an election issue.

A “civil war” among unions: The issue is likely to come up in Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential primary debate, after the Culinary Workers union last week criticized Medicare for All, which would eliminate the private insurance plans labor leaders have fought to secure for members over the years.

“‘Medicare for All’ is roiling labor unions across the country, threatening to divide a critical part of the Democratic base ahead of several major presidential primaries,” Politico’s Ian Kullgren and Alice Miranda Ollstein report. “On one side of the divide are more liberal unions like the American Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union, which argue that leaving health benefits to the government could free unions to refocus collective bargaining on wages and working conditions. On the other side are more conservative unions like the International Association of Fire Fighters and New York’s Building & Construction Trades Council, which don’t trust the government to create a health plan as good as what their members enjoy now.”

The bottom line: The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman suggested last week that Sanders “would privately agree with AOC — even if he can’t say it publicly” for political and negotiating reasons. Sanders, Waldman wrote, “knows the unfortunate truth: There is precisely zero chance that a single-payer system of the kind Sanders proposes will pass Congress anytime soon. It wouldn’t even be close. … But it’s important that single-payer remain on the table as an option, not only because talking about it helps highlight everything that’s wrong with the current system, but also because it serves as a kind of cognitive and rhetorical anchor for everyone involved.”

For that reason, the battle over Medicare for All — as unlikely as it is to get enacted and as dangerous as it might be for Democrats — will keep going as the party’s protracted nomination battle plays out.

Poll of the Day: Health Care Still Voters' Top Issue

Cutting health care and prescription drug costs rank as the top policy priorities for Americans across party lines, according to a new poll from Politico and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“Although health care issues are at the top of their list for presidential and congressional action, the public does not place large health system reforms, including Medicare-for-all, a Medicare buy-in, or repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), among their top four domestic priorities,” thwe pollsters say.

The survey of 1,011 U.S. adults was conducted between January 21 and 26. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points overall.

Here are American’s top five domestic priorities, according to the poll:

Chart of the Day: Boosting Corporate Tax Revenues

The leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have all proposed increasing taxes on corporations, including raising income tax rates to levels ranging from 25% to 35%, up from the current 21% imposed by the Republican tax cuts in 2017. Here’s how much revenue the higher proposed corporate taxes, along with additional proposed surtaxes and reduced tax breaks, would generate over a decade, according to calculations by the right-leaning Tax Foundation, highlighted Wednesday by Bloomberg News. Bernie Sanders leads the way at $3.9 trillion.

Tonight's Democratic debate in Las Vegas starts at 9 p.m. ET. You can watch it via live streams on,, the Nevada Independent’s website or on the NBC News app. The NBC News and MSNBC Facebook pages and the Noticias Telemundo Facebook page will also carry the debate.

Send your tips and feedback to Follow us on Twitter: @yuvalrosenberg, @mdrainey and @TheFiscalTimes. And please tell your friends they can sign up here for their own copy of this newsletter.

Number of the Day: $500 Million

The Census Bureau is spending $500 million over the next five months to boost awareness of and encourage participation in the national 2020 head count. Some of the money is being spent to reassure minority populations, especially Latinos, that census data is confidential and will not be shared with state and federal law enforcement, Politico’s Maya King reports.

Some key details:

  • Census officials are worried about an undercount in some communities, due in part to an effort by the Trump administration to include a controversial citizenship status question on the census — an effort that was rejected by the courts, but that nevertheless sparked concerns in immigrant communities.
  • About $50 million of the total advertising budget will be direct specifically at Latinos, including ads broadcast in Spanish in sanctuary cities. “In response to citizenship question concerns, they will emphasize that anyone — including members of blended families and newcomers to the United States — is eligible to participate,” King says.
  • Other ethnic groups will specifically targeted, as well, with $20 million being spent to encourage participation among African Americans and $40 million on ads focused on Asian Americans.
  • Some critics say the government isn’t doing enough to address fears of participation in immigrant communities. Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, says the Census Bureau ads don’t directly discuss the absence of the citizenship question. Michael Cook, chief of the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office, concedes the point, saying the “ads do not explicitly mention the citizenship question not being asked in part because they were developed prior to the resolution of the question’s status and because research led our creative agency to recommend using positive messaging about the community benefits of responding to the 2020 Census.”


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